London was calling for the globe’s FinTech movers and shakers and Bahrain made its presence felt as a potential investment hub. A delegation also used the opportunity to showcase how far the kingdom has come in developing the ‘most burgeoning’ sector in the region.
The Innovate Finance Global Summit 2018 kicked off the start of UK FinTech Week - gathering more than 300 companies, 200 speakers and thousands of innovators, influencers and supporters from the global financial technology industry to explore the ideas and innovations shaping the global sector.
There were around 60 sessions held across two days, from in-depth roundtable discussions on how to deliver real change with banking to ‘fireside chats’ with founders of pioneering FinTech businesses.
Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, Zayed bin Rashid Alzayani, said: “Participating in such events is a great opportunity to promote our economy and help international investors take advantage of the opportunities that Bahrain offers.
“With over four decades as a regional financial centre led by our dynamic Central Bank, Bahrain provides many opportunities in FinTech, payments, Islamic finance and wealth management.”
The Bahrain delegation included Rasheed Al Maraj, governor of the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB), Khalid Al Rumaihi, chief executive of Bahrain’s Economic Development Board (EDB), as well as senior representatives from the private sector.
A promotional video has also been released on social media to spread the kingdom’s message far and wide, featuring some of the highlights of their participation in the event.
“Our interaction with the banking industry emphasises the need to invest more in FinTech. It is heartening to see that banks, boards and senior managements realise the importance of FinTech,” the governor said during a keynote summit address. He also took part in a panel discussion where he highlighted Bahrain’s recent FinTech developments, including the region’s first onshore regulatory sandbox - a 'safe space' in which businesses can test innovative products, services, business models and delivery mechanisms.
Hassan Jarrar, CEO of Bahrian Islamic Bank (BisB), fresh from signing a ground-breaking partnership with PayPal, as reported in FinTech Focus, believes the trip proved to be an ideal learning opportunity too, describing it as ‘an eye-opener’.
“For us in Bahrain to come here and listen to different ideas opens up a whole lot of possibilities. We meet new partners, we learn about new technologies and we try to build bridges.”
David Parker, executive director, financial services, EBD, was equally positive about the possible spin-offs. “We are very keen to engage in FinTech ventures here in London. We want to encourage them to look at the Middle East - look at the GCC - and use Bahrain as a base from which they can test new ideas and new solutions with an innovation-friendly regulator.”
And, Dalal Buhejji, senior manager, business development financial services at Bahrain EDP, believes there are similarities between the two countries than can be built upon. “We are both financial hubs so there is a lot of collaboration that can happen,” she said.
On the second day of the summit, Khalid took part in a roundtable discussion on the importance of building global collaboration between Islamic FinTech hubs. He said: “Bahrain’s long history as a leader in Islamic finance, paired with a strong track record in creating the right environment for businesses to adapt quickly to new technologies, means that we are fast becoming a key driver of growth in the Islamic FinTech industry.
“Bahrain FinTech Bay, MENA’s largest FinTech hub, launched last month and we are looking forward to seeing different players in the sector come together to create truly innovative FinTech and Islamic FinTech solutions.
“Bahrain is also committed to ongoing reforms and regulatory improvements to streamline the innovation process and ensure the business climate is ideal for investment, including the introduction of a regulatory sandbox as well as crowd-funding regulations to enable greater access to new sources of capital.”
With 2017 marking a pioneering year for crypto-currencies there was no surprise that the topic featured more than once at the summit. Their combined market value went from less than $20bn to over $540bn last year alone and predictions have already been set for bitcoin to reach $60,000 per coin in 2018. Whilst this meteoric rise has brought high returns for some, it has also brought about many questions, particularly around regulation.
Bahrain is the only country in MENA region with onshore and nationwide trusts law, first introduced more than 10 years ago. The kingdom’s world-class regulation for trusts includes the recognition of foreign trusts, 100 per cent foreign ownership of trust property, provisions for trusts to be governed by foreign laws, the setup of unilateral trusts, and globally leading standards of protection for beneficiaries, supervised by the CBB.
Stanley Louis Szecowka
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